Hezbollah Leader Threatens Europe With Wave of Syrian Refugees
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, this week threatened Europe with a new wave of Syrian refugees in an apparent bid to gain leverage over the European Union and force the United States to lift sanctions on Syria.
Speaking on a Lebanese TV broadcast on Tuesday, Nasrallah said that rather than fleeing to Europe in rubber dinghies, Lebanon could provide the refugees with full-sized boats.
“The idea is to stop doing this, and let them leave in ships, rather than in rubber boats,” Nasrallah said, according to a translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute. “The people who promote this idea say that it would lead to an inevitable outcome — the European countries will come crawling to the government palace in Beirut, asking what they can give the Lebanese people to stop the flow of refugees into Europe? This is what Turkey and other countries did.”
There are more than 800,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, though the true number is likely double that after the Lebanese government asked the UN to stop registering new refugees in 2015. Lebanon — where Hezbollah, an Iran-backed organization, wields significant political influence — is facing an ongoing political and economic crisis that some Lebanese politicians have blamed in part on Syrian refugees.
While the European crisis over Syrian refugees largely ended in 2016 when the EU reached an agreement on refugees with Turkey, Syrians continue to try to flee the 12-year-old civil war that has killed more than half a million people and left much of Syria in ruins. On Friday, the Lebanese army rescued 124 Syrian migrants fleeing Lebanon in a small boat.
Nasrallah on Tuesday blamed the United States for both the Syrian civil war and the inability of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to rebuild.
“Who caused the war in Syria? America and its people,” Nasrallah said. “This is well known. The war was directed by the US ambassador to Damascus, who was stationed in Turkey, and by the operations rooms of Arab and American generals … When the war in Syria came to an end, international companies were rushing to invest in Syria, so Syria could have been revived, the Syrians could have stayed there, and the people who emigrated could have returned to their country. Why? Because there would have been construction, electricity, water, job opportunities, new buildings, and a rebuilding of the economy. But along came the United States, and imposed the Caesar Act [sanctioning the Syrian government].”
Nasrallah’s comments were endorsed by Lebanese Caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine, in an interview this week with Lebanon’s L’Orient Today.
“The sea is ahead of you and Syria is behind you,” Charafeddine said. “I agree with Nasrallah’s statements regarding [Syrian] refugees. We should open the sea for migration to Europe by ships and there should be a resolution to the file of Syrian refugees from its core.”
While Charafeddine’s title might imply that he has responsibility for refugees, a Lebanese army official told The National on Wednesday that the idea was out of the question for now.
“Despite Minister Charafeddine’s comments, it’s not his decision to make,” the official said.